Gael García Bernal in No
Sony Pictures Classics
2012, 110 minutes
Rated R for language
This is a re-post of my original New York Film Festival Review from October.
Pablo Larraín's No is one of the best films about modern history that you will ever see. Everything in it works so well that it is an experience that is simultaneously moving, funny, suspenseful, and fascinating.
No is based off a stage play and the screenplay was written by Pedro Peirano. It follows an ad executive, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal in yet another impressive performance), who takes up the opposition to dictator Augustín Pinochet during the 1988 Chilean elections.
Pablo Larraín should, but won't, get a Best Director Oscar nomination for this film. He made the daring directorial choice to shoot the film on U-matic tape to make the historical footage and film blend seamlessly. This is a bold choice as the film is low-resolution and literally looks as if it was an '80s TV show. But, this is a brilliant movie. The historical footage and the film footage do blend perfectly creating a film that looks so authentic that it is literally impossible to distinguish between 2012 footage and 1988 footage. After screening this film, I viewed one of the commercials actually made by the campaign and I actually believed that that footage, when used in the movie, was shot for the movie, not historical footage. That is a testament to how well Larraín's U-matic shooting worked.
No's screenplay is excellent. The dialogue is sharp and the story arc is very good. The film is never boring and even though I knew the result of the election, it was still suspenseful to watch. A distinguishing mark of this film is its humor. Though the film's subject is anything but funny, Peirano adds humor and wit into the screenplay to make it even more enjoyable to watch. He also wrote great characters whom I cared for.
The performances in the film are all top-notch. The supporting cast is all great, particularly Antonia Zegers as Saavedra's politically active, ex-wife (or estranged wife). But, Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Bad Education, Amores Perros), one of the most versatile and talented actors working today, takes the cake as Saavedra. His performance here is so nuanced and quietly powerful as he plays a man trying to save his country. A man who tries to keep his cool in a heated political situation. Bernal has great comedic timing and proves once again that he can carry a film.
No, above all, is an inspirational film about a country coming out of an era of darkness that never resorts to cheap sentimentalism. It is well-acted, scripted, and shot and should be a contender for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination come January (it is Chile's submission to the Oscars). This is a film that everyone should see. It is a little-known part of a horrifying chapter of history that deserves to be seen.
On a side note, the R-rating for this film is solely for a little language. This is a film that parents should take their teens to see as it is harmless and enlightening.